New Destination Islands – help or hinder?

In a low-key move, Linden Lab has rolled-out what appears to be a “new” new user experience and which seems to utilise some of the new game controls LL are shortly to be rolling-out to the community as a whole. However, what it is precisely aimed at doing is unclear.

On signing-up to Second Life, new users (or those with a new avatar account) are now delivered to one of 24 Destination Islands.  Like Linden Realms, these are a group of identical regions, each containing mesh trees from the game, with a central coliseum-like structure towards the centre which forms the arrival-point for new users.

Once of the new Destination Islands

No real explanation is provided as to what the place represents or how to use it. Arrivals are instead presented with a series of glass-like doorways with arrows and footprints leading to them, and each with is own label.

Information slides for those installing the SL Viewer for the very first time following sign-up

True, as a part of installing the Viewer for the first time (the download being a part of the sign-up process), new users are treated to a series of slides that provide a little more detail on using SL (see selected screen captures above), and they’ll have the Destination Guide open once they’ve logged-in to SL – but that’s it. Within the Destination Island areas there are no hints, tips or tutorials available to help the new user – there are just the seven doors (Art, Role-playing, Popular, Social, Music, Editor’s Picks and Adult), arrows and footprints.

Magical mystery tour

Walking through a portal will do two things: open the world-map at a potential destination and auto-teleport your avatar to a destination. Unless you’re using an unverified adult account and try the Adult portal. In this case you’ll simply get a flat nose and no explanation as to why. While an e-mail on this subject of adult verification is sent out to users as a part of the sign-up process, it would be nice if walking-into the door with an unverified account popped-up some kind of explanation rather than leaving people bouncing off the portal for no readily apparent reason.

Passing though other doors drops you into a destination based on the portal’s category. These appear to be selected at random from the Destination Guide. The process doesn’t seem entirely smooth: the world map opens during teleport (or it did for me. Twice), only to close on arrival. This is something that doesn’t happen in Linden Realms, so if the system i use at the Destination Islands is the same as the auto-teleport function used within LR, I assume this is a glitch that will be fixed, rather than a “feature” of the auto-teleport function.

Once you’ve left the Destination Islands there is no way back. Any attempt to teleport directly to them (assuming a new user understand the concept of teleporting) is met “Teleport Failed. You cannot teleport back to Help Island. Go to ‘Help Island Public’ to repeat the tutorial” and an OK button. Hence why you’ll have to create a new account if you want to test the system yourself.

OK, where next? What next?

This isn’t the solution you’re looking for?

Much – perhaps too much – has been made of the new user experience over the past few years. We’ve had talk of the “first hour”, the “first five hours” and, at the opposite end of the spectrum, “the first five minutes”. From comments he’s passed, it’s clear that Rod Humble is swayed towards the latter – that if you don’t capture the heart and mind of a new user in the first five minutes, then you’ve potentially lost them forever.

I’m not about to debate his wisdom on that one – but I will say that it’s hard to see how this approach actually improves matters. While one doesn’t necessarily need to have masses of information on display at the Destination Islands, having at least some guidance provided would, I’d have thought, be beneficial. Of course, this may be coming – in which case LL have rather put cart before horse in hooking-up the new islands to the sign-up process ahead of the information arriving.

This is where I think LL missed a step in merging-up the Basic and Advanced modes of the Viewer. In the former, we had a very good introductory series of tutorials in the form of the HOW TO pages. At the time I felt these could be enhanced, but overall they provided a good starting-point. While HOW TO is still evidenced in the Viewer in the form of a button – it would be useful if the installation process at least drew attention to it. Much better would be for HOW TO to be open by default until the first time it is manually closed (as with the Destination Guide). It wouldn’t solve all the issues in getting new users semi-oriented to SL, but it would at least help them feel comfortable with the Viewer UI – not everyone is happy with randomly pushing on-screen buttons and seeing what happens.

My experience demonstrated that people arriving at the same destination as myself were very confused as to what was happening and what they were supposed to be doing. The flow of people into the region I arrived in was fairly steady, but all of those stating they had just joined SL (and the number was around one or two arriving every few minutes) all pretty much had the same three questions:

  • What just happened?
  • Where am I?
  • What am I supposed to be doing?

Few had actually appreciated there was a HOW TO button (more-or-less the first thing I directed them to), and I found that doing so, and pointing them to functions such as Search,  was greeted with verbal facepalming, e.g.: “Well, it would help to be told that from the start!”

It’s hard to see how this system relates to the Public Help Islands, which are still active. There are no links between the two (other than the message displayed when trying to teleport directly to a Destination Island, as described above). Whether information from PHI will be incorporated into the Destination Islands is an unknown and remains to be seen.

Right now, I’m curious as to where this idea is going. Is it offered-up as delivered, or will there be enhancements based on feedback or observation (and if based on feedback, where do people give it?). As it stands, it’s hard to see how this system helps new users – although LL are doubtless in a far better position to make a call on this than my casual observations. I can’t help feel the approach, as currently presented is potentially as much a hindrance as anything else, and getting to grips with SL is still a matter of dogged determination on the part of those signing-up.

But then, this isn’t the easiest of issues to address, as we’ve seen over the years.

I’d like to keep an eye on if / how the new regions develop. As such I’ve held back with a new account on one of the islands to see if anything changes. If it does, I’ll be following-up here.

Related Links

New users: the shared experience

34 thoughts on “New Destination Islands – help or hinder?

    1. Dunno 🙂

      I’m actually caught in the middle in some ways. Dealing with new users isn’t easy, and Rod set the goal of being able to get any “reasonably-intelligent” user to use SL – so in some respects, you’d think people would be relatively au fait with pushing buttons and looking at menus. It’s pretty much how I started out, and the emphasis on me is “reasonable” rather than “ultra” when it comes to computers and my overall knowledge of game-like environments was near-zero. That people hadn’t noticed / clicked the HOW TO button did surprise me.

      The flip side is that when you go to somewhere like PHI, it’s harder to miss things…like the big, blue revolving banner advising you to use F1 for help; and sometimes you do need to employee the rule book of the Department of the Bleedin’ Obvious to ensure people are aware of some things…

      So it’s hard. But in this case, I think LL may have swung too far away from the almost obsessive approach when Mark Kingdon went from talking about the “first hour” to the “first five hours” for the new user, and into something a little too spartan.


  1. I’d worry about the *look* of the Destination Island, too. Those mesh trees give it a very “low level video game” look. I would guess quite a few people would look around, say “Meh…I had a video game like this when I was six,” log off and uninstall.


    1. Quite possible.

      I did notice during my time at one of the islands, tho, that people seemed to pay little attention to the surroundings but were more-or-less beelining for portals, with the odd one or two bouncing off the Adult portal around three or four times before giving up and trying something else.


  2. I’m very interested to see where they are going with this as well. although ease of use is an obvious reason we can toss out there, it seems slightly biased. It all does seem strange that SL is so adament on implementing such a game like introduction system especially with so much corporate investors in SL.

    I might expect this from an OS powered Grid but not SL. Thoughts?


    1. On the corporate side of things, those days are well and truly behind SL. The platform does has business uses, but not really at the level that was at one time being pushed by LL’s board.

      Many will claim the game-like look/feel of these areas is further proof that LL is being geared towards being sold to a gaming company (the “EA Connection” yet again).

      In some ways I’m not surprised that gaming mechanics are being used in these areas – they offer a very powerful and unique way of helping people understand the nuances of SL. However, the over execution is, frankly, weak (at least to established users’ eyes) and offers little real benefit other than (as Elizabeth states below) a “Nothing to see, move along” feeling. And its not as if LL are unaware of the potential of the tools, having themselves made mention of a range of uses in the promotional video for them.

      I’ll likely be saying more on the subject in a follow-up post :).


      1. Maybe LL could use the new tools to install a “Learning HUD” that a newbie could take with them into the world. By the time they learned to detach it they would no longer need it 🙂


  3. Once we had Community Gateways. Themed, catering to different language groups, catering for those with different abilities, and even to different role play groups. They were set up and paid for by residents, manned by volunteers and provided a wealth of instructional help. Let’s stress again – paid for by residents. This program cost the Lab very, very little as the residents paid.

    And the Lab closed the program with about eighteen hours notice,

    Incidentally, I had to make a new account on OSgrid the other day for a Designing Worlds programme we’re making there. I landed in a well-designed plaza with helpful tutorials all around and a choice of free avatars that I could take and wear.

    And yes, dumping new residents in a Linden realms world is just crazy. Shouldn’t their first sight of Second Life be something wonderful and awesome? Heaven knows, there’s enough great builders here to create something that looks terrific – and some of them are Linden moles. As it is, what you’re showing in the screen shots does make me think “kid’s game”.


    1. I also don’t understand why LL closed the Community Gateways, or why the beta programme under development was suddenly rolled back.

      There is a disconnect in LL’s thinking here; and I can’t help but wonder if it is something to do with the “younger demographic” figures that were being pushed last year, with some taking it to mean the more game-like, slightly “wacky” look is potentially more appealing.

      When you look at all that has come and gone – place like HPI, etc., and all they achieved, there is a clear case – as you say – for LL and the community to share the experience and put together something incredibly engaging for new users.


  4. i think its part of the “move people along simply and quickly, no messing about” metrics strategy

    sign-up is really quick and easy. now so too is the arrival inworld. log in, pick a portal and we’re done

    would seem that way less people are quitting now before they hit the inworld proper. something that was happening in the corridor of the previous and even more on the old old welcome islands

    as mentioned above, its assumed that people do know how to press F1:Help. as you say the F1:Help needs working on. more so than the “hi welcome to SL islands” imo

    the actual SL inworld can’t be learned on a help island. learning how and where to obtain stuff, opening boxes and where you can do that. editing your avatar attachments and why you must, exploring and understanding the insights that come from all this, etc. takes most people days, over some weeks to learn the mechanics of this and also begin to get it


    1. Not sure I agree wrt the mechanics. Fully understanding the UI – where everything is in the menus, use of the buttons, context menus, etc., does take time. One cannot escape the fact that there will be an inevitable learning-curve.

      But being shown how to use the basics? That can – and has – been done in the past and with more than a little success. Help People Island, a privately-run orientation island (now sadly gone), did just that through a series of interactive boards and activities, and always had volunteers on-hand to help new users with great success. We’ve also had the SL mentors group which, while there were some issues, largely worked, them there were – as Saffia mentioned above – the Community Gateways.

      As to the sign-up-and-move-along philosophy, you could be right; it fits what this system offers, and making the “what next?” question a matter of SEP – Someone Else’s Problem. But if that is the approach the Lab is taking, then it is both disappointing and worrying, as it doesn’t seem to encourage engagement / retention to a great degree.


      1. damien already answered stuff so is hope still (:

        i just say some more things


        SEP – thats a good term for it. SEP in the latest linden version seems to be TUP – The Users Problem. tupping? (:

        for me i try to understand why linden does what they do. dont always agree with what they do. just try to understand it and then work from there

        the new islands seem to try to address the instant first problem: rez and lag. so a minimalist low poly mesh build. if you can’t see this on your computer then SL doesn’t work for you. so hit the X button

        movement is the big factor. move and keep moving at least for the first few sessions. when people stop they X it. going backwards is movement. linden should allow going back to the portals at least for the first week or two. is a common thing when confronted with the unknown or unexpected. go back to what i know and then go in another direction. keep doing this until i am happy with the direction. when i cant go back to what i know then i will X it more times than when i can


        as you mention, people learn a UI (any UI) on a need to know basis. learn it as we go and only when we have too. help is the key. context-sensitive help. v3 is addressing this. still lots of work to do here but is a vast improvement over previous versions

        the other help resource is other users. traditionally in SL, a user wanting help from others is put into the same space as the others. help islands, community gateways, etc


        whats the alternative? linden have this already kinda. the Answers section of their blog. ask a question and you get an answer pretty quickly from other users. some users will contact the person inworld even and go see them where they are and help. thats the real enabler imo. most times in these cases the helper goes to the helpee and not the other way round. is quite important to be able to do that

        so if was me then in addition to comprehensive context-sensitive help for self-learners, i would interface Answers into the viewer itself. an immediate response system then for people needing more. accessible from anywhere inworld. help from 1000s of experienced users willing and able to patiently answer your questions and help you inworld with your immediate problem. while also being able to do what they are doing inworld as well, building or whatever. even not being logged in sometimes and working on other things RL acessing through the website. as quite often the help you actual need can be provided by a link to the help resource

        linden can’t ever respond to this kind of help requests and they shouldn’t imo. we can. enable it inworld and we will

        the other interesting thing is linden already have a rating system for Answers. the helpy “mentors” are selected by the users based on how helpful they actually are and badged accordingly


        1. Help via the forums is a fair point – when people actually look to use the forums. It’s still no substitute for the provision of in-world guidance. That people hop in-world is good, but matters shouldn’t be either / or – it should be a balanced mix of both.

          Your idea of integration is good; I’m all for that – and did suggest that HOW TO moves to the Viewer when the Basic and Advanced modes were re-merged (which it did – although it didn’t take a genius to realise doing so would be a wise move); I did also suggest a small expansion to HOW TO, which didn’t happen.

          Again, an easy move in getting new users started is to have HOW TO open when the Viewer is first launched (rather than the Destination Guide – which HOW TO points to anyway). This way, you’re putting core information directly in front of the user and helping them to help themselves.

          The problem with the Destination Islands as they’ve been launched is that finding in-world help is a matter of pure luck for the new user. You arrive at an island, you pick a portal and teleport, with no knowledge of where you are going and if anyone will be there when you arrive. There is no direct way of getting to help and support – and making the portals as they are two-way won’t solve that. However, it does appear things will be changing and Damien has hinted not is to come; I hope so, and look forward to seeing what comes along.


  5. It sounds like they stripped away everything but a variation on the final gateway on the Welcome Island I first came to in 2005. Newbies need to understand that they can not come back, and the island needs the How To tools available.
    Wandering the welcome sim is the best way to learn the basics. A few interesting props will motivate people to move around. Back in the day I learned to walk around in order to get to the next information poster, and I hung out with the parrot and the beach ball for a while 🙂


    1. Ah… the parrot. Like it or loathe it, if you experienced it, you can’t easily forget it!

      Getting people in motion, etc., is one of the reasons I liked elements of the Orientation Islands – of which only two appear to be left: Orientation Island 5, and the Orientation Island Public…


        1. Oh good grief…I actually *had* forgotten the beach ball! Oh, happy memories & to be (relatively) young and naive again! 🙂


  6. I’ll leave an open question here:
    What are “the basics” a newbie needs before coming in world?
    1- Walking (flying?)
    2- Chat
    3- Sitting (pose balls?)


    1. …and in doing so, you’ll demonstrate one of the problems LL does face when going to the community with a question :): “Ask ten different people the same question, and you’ll get eleven different answers” :).


      1. Correct. Also the initial scope of the project was much larger than the end result. Not sure how much I can say at this point, but the island isn’t final.


  7. This is a topic i’ve become more and more interested in. I’m glad you, Daniel and others are checking this out and reporting about it. I am generally supportive of many changes the Lab is instituting, even Wilderness (with caveats), but I don’t fully understand what’s been happening lately.


    1. Thanks Yordie (and for the follow!)

      DIs are a “suck it and see” situation & apparently (as the comments show) some kind of on-going closed-door development. I still have an Alt camped-out at one and will be checking on her routinely for evidence of changes :).


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